Issue 172, 20 September 2022
Situational report CAO 20AUG2022
- Russia moves ahead with organising referenda on controlled territories in Ukraine;
- It is highly likely that Russia will annex parts of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporozhihia Oblasts over the coming weeks;
- On Wednesday, Putin announced partial mobilisation, including 300,000 personnel drafted over time. Russia will not do this well and will struggle. But the decision means that the Kremlin’s commitment to the issue of destroying Ukraine is unhinged;
- Ukraine made new gains near Lyman as Russian forces were being slowly pushed back to Luhansk Oblast.S
On Wednesday morning, Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, announced the partial mobilisation of the country’s armed forces. Before we discuss the reasons behind the decision and its implications, we must go back to what happened in separatists’ republics this week.
On Monday, separatists urgently started discussing preparations for immediate referenda on joining Russia. The vote is not only to be held in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts but also in Zaporizhzhia and Kherson. None of these areas is fully controlled by the Russian Federation. In Luhansk, Moscow controls around 99% of the territory as Ukrainian forces prepare to enter the oblast on a larger scale. In Kherson, this figure drops to approximately 90%, to 70% for Zaporizhzhia and 55-60% for Donetsk Oblast. Yet, despite the security situation and ongoing military engagements in these regions, Russia will go ahead with the referendum.
The vote is now scheduled to take place from 23-27SEP with the support of the Central Election Commission of Russia. It is highly likely that the decision to bring the vote forward was caused by the weaknesses of the Russian Armed Forces, so evident over the past weeks. The Kharkiv Offensive and imminent UAF entry to the Luhansk Oblast probably played a crucial role in this decision. Moscow decided to “escape forward” and impose its narrative.
It also seeks to limit the UAF operations in these regions. There is no doubt that if there is a vote, the abovementioned oblasts will be annexed by Russia. Moscow will therefore claim that a Ukrainian attack on these territories amounts to an attack on Russia, which opens up a new range of responses. Will this prevent the UAF from actively conducting combat operations? We believe it is highly unlikely. We also believe that western countries’ support for Ukraine will increase, including the delivery of new platforms.
Also, on Tuesday, the State Duma passed a bill to amend the Criminal Code. The legislation added new articles establishing penalties for “crimes against military service” if they are committed during mobilisation, during wartime, or under martial law. Essentially, the bill increased the severity of penalties for people who commit crimes during these abovestated periods. For instance, using violence against a superior is punishable by up to five years in prison during peacetime. However, during mobilisation or “in the conditions of military hostilities,” this increases to 15 years. The bill also increased penalties for looting, desertion, refusing conscription orders, and insubordination.
The bill also addresses the problem with “refuseniks”. These are service members who refuse to participate in hostilities or do refuse to fulfil orders during mobilisation, wartime, or under martial law. In doing so, they could go to jail for up to three years.
These changes in the Criminal Code heralded mobilisation, which President Putin announced on Wednesday morning. Altogether, 300,000 men are to be mobilised, but this will be a gradual process.
This is a very significant shift in this war. It confirms the weaknesses of the Russian Armed Forces in fulfilling their already curtailed objectives of capturing the Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts. Putin added that only citizens currently in reserve who served in the armed forces, with certain military specialities and relevant experience, will be subject to conscription.
The decision to mobilise also probably brings the “special military situation” to a close and starts “war”, even though this has not been mentioned explicitly.
Putin also accused the West of nuclear blackmail and added that if the state’s “territorial integrity is threatened, Russia will use all the means at its disposal. This is not a bluff.” The question is whether the to-be-annexed territories will also be considered parts of Russia and will be covered by the Russian military doctrine and its nuclear umbrella.
Following Putin’s speech, an interview with Shoigu was broadcasted. He stated that Russia has a “huge mobilisation resource” of almost 25 million people, so the current call-up only pertains to 1.1% of those available. He added that students and conscripts are not subject to mobilisation, and mobilised personnel will be primarily tasked with controlling the territory near the front line.
Here are some thoughts about everything that happened over the past day.
- Most likely, not all 300,000 call-up personnel will be used in combat roles. They still need supplies and logistics to support their operations, so a big chunk of personnel will be used in these roles;
- 300,000 men is a lot of force. Russia went into this war with around 150,000-180,000 so, on paper, Moscow is mobilising twice the number it deployed in February. The second difference is that in February, Moscow went to war with trained logistics personnel and logistics systems taken straight from operational formations, faulty as it was. But now, Moscow needs to build most of the rear support system from scratch. This includes bases, ammunition depots, kitchens, field camps, etc. The Ukrainian offensive in the Kharkiv Oblast showed that Russia also struggles with maintaining its armoured vehicle fleet. The call-up will only make things worse. Moscow will suffer in this effort, and so will morale;
- Moscow will also struggle organisationally. It has never called up so many personnel at once. Although the annual conscription call stands at 200,000+, it was spread over the entire year. The partial mobilisation is gradual, but we do not know how fast or slow it will develop.
- By calling-up personnel with experience in the armed forces, Moscow wishes to decrease the time needed for training. Volunteer battalions’ pre-deployment training lasted less than a month. There are no indicators to suggest that this training time will now suddenly increase. We expect to see the first draftees appear in Ukraine over the next 5-6 weeks at a maximum.
- As stated in our weekly summary, the biggest weakness of Russian operations in Ukraine is a lack of manpower. The call-up is to change this. But whereas Moscow has enough AK-47s for 300,000 men, it does not have enough armoured vehicles to create many new tank/mechanised regiments. Currently, we do not know how many new units of this type will be established.
- Partly, new forces will be used to rotate those formations that have been on the frontline for weeks straight.
- A lot of focus in recent hours was placed on a Russian decision to mobilise. But, we also must remember that Ukraine has some unused mobilisational potential and can counter Russian moves with another wave of call-ups.
- Moscow’s decision will provide more impetus for Western support for Ukraine. We may see the United States donate Abrams tanks to Ukraine.
- We do not expect Ukraine to cease its combat operations, neither now nor when Russia-occupied territories are annexed or when new combat forces appear on the frontline.
Will 300,000 new Russian troops make a difference? We cannot talk about this number in isolation. We believe Ukraine will respond with additional call-ups and the West will speed up equipment deliveries. We also doubt that the new force will be combat effective. It seems that Moscow is mostly looking at the numbers, not factoring in other elements such as morale, willingness to fight, etc.
Winter is coming, too, and we believe that Russians will not be provisioned and equipped well enough to launch large-scale combat operations during this time.
The next few days/weeks will show how Russia is progressing with mobilisation and what we can expect this new force to deliver.
The frontline situation in selected directions at axes
There were no reported frontline changes in this direction on Tuesday.
On Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke about the Kharkiv Oblast air defence, specifically addressing many concerns about why this particular aspect had not been strengthened. He stated that air defence capability is not a matter of money but the manufacturing capability of partner countries. Ukrainian partners want to help, but they are unwilling to provide existing systems from their inventory. Ukraine needs to wait until new ones are produced. He confirmed that Ukraine should receive short-range NASAMS complexes from the United States and IRIS system from Germany.
Cross-border artillery fires continued on Tuesday, although it is unclear what their intensity was.
According to Oleh Synyehubov, the Governor of the Kharkiv Oblast, Russians launched a missile strike on an infrastructure target in the Chuguevsky district and conducted artillery strikes in Kharkivsky, Kupyansky and Izyumsky districts. However, the strikes were reportedly mostly conducted along the frontline or the border between the two states.
As of Monday, 19SEP, the UAF had defused around 1,100 rounds of ammunition and explosives in the Kharkiv Oblast.
According to Iryna Vereshchuk, Minister for the Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories, citizens wishing to leave the oblast ahead of winter will be given this opportunity. Destroyed infrastructure will probably not be able to support a normal standard of living during winter.
Luhansk Oblast direction
There were no changes in this direction on Tuesday.
Donetsk Oblast direction
Tuesday did not bring any significant changes in this direction.
During the day, Russians launched seven missiles and conducted 20 air and 15 MLRS strikes on Ukrainian positions, hitting both civilian and military targets.
According to Oleksiy Arestovych, advisor to the Office of the Ukrainian President, General Staff confirmed that UAF gained two footholds on the left bank of the Oskil river (Yarova and Sosnove). He also added that several settlements in the Lyman are now under UAF control. As stated in the previous issue, our sources claim that Lyman had already been liberated. Russian social media accounts claimed on Tuesday night that there was a Russian counterattack on Lyman and that Ukrainians were pushed back all the way to the Siversky Donets River. We find this claim highly unlikely to be true.
Nevertheless, due to recent progress, the UAF might soon “open up operational space” towards Svatove and approach the borders of the Luhansk region. But to do that, the armed forces first need to build up their presence on the left bank of the river and ensure that Lyman is no longer threatened.
According to Ukrainian sources, Russia is fortifying the Nizhnya Duvanka-Svatove-Kreminna line with engineering units.
Arestovych expressed his surprise that Russians were still trying to take Soledar, instead of transferring them to Lysychansk-Severodonetsk, Lyman, and Svatove areas to support defence efforts there.
On Tuesday, the UAF launched an attack on Drobysheve on the western outskirts of Lyman, but the attack was reportedly repelled.
According to (pro)Russian sources, Ukrainians continue to strengthen their presence along the Siversky Donetsk bank either in anticipation of further offensive operations or to tie up some of the Russian military potential in the area. Specifically, Ukrainians deployed a new unit to Oleksandrivka.
Regarding Soledar, Russian sources claimed that Wagner PMC were deployed into the city to regain territory recently recaptured by Ukrainian forces. It is thus safe to assume that fighting in Soledar mostly has a positional character, with neither side being able to tip the balance. Russians are concerned that a fall of Soledar will pave the way to further Ukrainian gains up north, towards Lysychansk.
This demands closer analysis, but some sources claimed that Ukrainians launched an attack from Bilohorivka to Berestove, which was captured. Russians claim to have dislodged Ukrainians from Berestove and that the village is now under their control. Regardless of Berestove’s status, the attack potentially confirms that the UAF is pushing both east towards Lysychansk and south towards Soledar from the Siversk area. This would also explain the decision to deploy more forces to Soledar to protect Russian gains there.
There were no changes in Bakhmut. Russians and their proxy forces did not extend their territorial control but remained entrenched on the city’s outskirts. They control an intersection within the city boundaries, which is about 5 km away from the city centre. Again, Wager seems to be doing most of the fighting.
There were no frontline changes in this direction on Tuesday.
According to the Ukrainian General Staff, Russians shelled Novosilka, Novopil, Vremivka, Velyka Novosilka, Vuhledar, Novomayorske, Zaliznychne, Hulyaipole, Malynivka, Chervone and Dorozhnianka, Mali Shcherbaki, Mala Tokmachka and Kamianske.
The most important event on Tuesday was the announcement made by the Head of the military-civilian administration of the Zaporizhzhia region, Evgeny Balitsky, that the administration would go on with the referendum.
On Tuesday, Balitsky signed the necessary decree, and the vote will occur between 23-27SEP. The questions will relate to the secession from Ukraine, the formation of an independent state and its entry into Russia.
He also added that the administration is “technically” ready and that the “polling stations are secure”. Borders are also “reliably protected by the Russian military”.
Balitsky also signed a decree on the formation of volunteer battalions in the region. Recruitment could begin soon, but this may be a cover for an introduction of forceful mobilisation.
There were no frontline changes on Monday in this direction.
On Tuesday, Russians continued their attacks on Ukrainian positions along the front and on on the rear. Two kamikaze drones were seen near the port in Ochakov. They also launched a missile on a grain elevator in Bereznehuvate, destroying it completely. Nikopolsky district was shelled several times with heavy barrel artillery and Grand MLRS.
According to Operational Command South, missile and artillery units continued fire missions to control bridges and crossings across the Dnieper and engage Russian concentration areas. They hit four such areas in Berislavsky, Henichensky, Kakhovsky and Khersonsky districts, reportedly killing 90 personnel and destroying three tanks, eight pieces of equipment, three howitzers, four 2S3 Akatsiya SPHs, two 2S5 Giatsint-Ss SPGs, and six BM-21s. The OCS also reported that they had hit an ammunition depot in Pravdyno in a continued effort to degrade Russian ability to provide its forces in the Kherson Oblast.
The OCS also mentioned that all attempts by Russian troops to set up alternative crossings across the Dnipro river in the areas of Nova Kakhovka and Kozatsky were stopped by artillery strikes. In yesterday’s issue of UCM, we published a satellite image showing makeshift crossings near the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant. These crossings have already been struck by Ukrainian artillery.
On Tuesday, the UAF shot down a Russian Su-25 attack aircraft in the Kherson region and a Shahed-136 Iranian kamikaze drone in the Mykolaiv region.
Military situation in Belarus
On 20SEP, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka met with the Secretary of the State Security Council, Lieutenant General Alexander Volfovich, to discuss the updated Belarusian Concept of National Security.
During the meeting, Lukashenka addressed the necessity of creating a transparent concept that will realistically describe the state’s potential risks and threats and possible Belarusian reaction measures. To avoid ambiguities and surprises, it is essential to inform Belarusian citizens and neighbours. Belarusian President also referred to the current security situation in the region, describing it as serious or even dangerous. Lukashenka thus advised Volfovich to strengthen the discipline of the Belarusian society and to carry out all needed actions, including putting military formations on combat alert, calling up reserve troops for military exercises, and even conducting wartime training activities with both contract servicemen and reserve personnel, as well as representatives of the Belarusian Territorial Defence Troops and National Militia.
Those actions are obligatory due to the presence of hostile military formations in Ukraine, which can be used to overthrow the Belarusian authorities and also the necessity of protecting the “rear” of the Russian Armed Forces, which are involved in the combat actions in Ukraine. Lukashenko stressed that Belarusian Armed Forces would not be directly involved in the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, but they are ready to support Russia as Belarusian main military ally.
Lukashenka also pointed out the importance of information security, especially due to the universality of fake information. He directly ordered Volfovich to work out ways to eliminate fake news and other examples of informational warfare from public life.
Volfovich stated that the draft of the Belarusian Concept of National Security will be submitted to the public discussion, analogously to the recently adopted new version of the Belarusian Consitution.
On Tuesday, Deputy Head of the Belarusian Military Academy Major General Sergey Zaitsev participated in the infusion of new students of the General Staff Faculty (operational-strategic level) into the Belarusian Military Academy. Inferring from the photos, the ceremony involved about twenty first-year officers from the Belarusian and Kazakhstan Armed Forces.
On 20SEP, cadets of the 72nd Joint Training Center participated in the examinations related to the special-tactical training, presumably connected with using the military communications systems. At the same time, the cadets of the Military Reconnaissance Faculty of the Belarusian Military Academy took part in the training classes related to the pre-jump training before their first parachute jumps.
On Tuesday, there were no notable transfers of Belarusian military equipment. However, a single echelon with a new URAL truck was spotted at the Orsha-Vostochnaya Railway Station.
On the other hand, the activity of the Belarusian Air Force was significant. At least seven fighter aircraft flights were carried out from the Baranovichi Air Base, while the Lida Air Base hosted unspecified training flights from 2PM to 9PM. About four cargo aircraft flights were also observed from the Machulischy Air Base.
On 20SEP, there was no information related to the activity of the Russian Armed Forces in Belarus.
Lines of advance in Ukraine
To improve performance, we have divided the map into two. One is the archive map, which contains data before the current week.
Another one is the current map, which only covers the current week’s events.
The current map is updated daily, and the archive once a week.